In recent years, the genre tag “Smooth Jazz” has come into the same disfavor as Prog, with both descriptors inspiring the notion that the music therein is comprised of overinflated puffery that is devoid of substance. The fact is, every genre is inflicted with artists that create nothing out of something and Smooth Jazz has its share, but Paul Taylor is certainly not among their number. The Denver-born, Las Vegas-based saxophonist has released 11 albums over the course of his 22-year career, collaborated with some of the biggest names in R&B (including Peabo Bryson, Regina Belle and Maxi Priest), guested with The Rippingtons and generally been a goodwill ambassador for one of music’s most maligned categories.
Taylor picked up the saxophone when he was 7 and joined Mixed Company, a Top 40 outfit, when he was in high school. He gigged around in a variety of capacities for a good many years until he was discovered at the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival (a kind of Smooth Jazz Coachella) by star keyboardist Keiko Matsui and her now former producer/husband Kazu Matsui, who offered Taylor a role in their band. Two years later, Kazu helped Taylor launch his solo career by producing his 1995 debut album, On the Horn, which made a significant mark on the Jazz chart, largely thanks to the airplay “‘Til We Meet Again” received. His next two albums, 1997’s Pleasure Seekers and 2000’s Undercover, were equally successful, and the rise in his profile ultimately led to an invitation to fill the saxophone slot for The Rippingtons after the departure of Jeff Kashiwa in 1999.
Taylor returned to his solo path with 2001’s Hypnotic and then put together a string of well-received albums, culminating with 2007’s Ladies’ Choice, his first No. 1 set on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. Taylor’s last two albums have been particularly interesting — 2014’s Tenacity featured guest appearances from Fusion icon Jeff Lorber and renowned Jazz pianist Jonathan Fritzen and produced the No. 1 hit “Supernova,” and last year’s Countdown hit the Top 10 on the Jazz charts (both albums featured Taylor’s reimagined takes on songs by R&B/Pop sensation The Weeknd —“Wicked Games” on the former and “The Hills” on the latter).
For the past two-plus decades, Taylor has negated the shade thrown at Smooth Jazz with a relentless supply of positivity, melody and energy.